New Mexico medical marijuana law gives the state Department of Health 30 days to approve or deny applications. Spokesman Kenny Vigil says the current wait is about 40 to 50 days. Pictured: Trimmed marijuana flower sits in a tray at the Medicine Man cultivation facility on Dec. 17, 2013 in Denver. (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)

Desperate MMJ patients turn to New Mexico black market

A high demand and delay for new medical marijuana cards in New Mexico is ‘backing patients up against a wall and a hard spot’

SANTA FE, N.M. — Delays in renewing New Mexico medical marijuana cards have grown so long that some seriously ill patients are resorting to purchasing marijuana on the black market, according to some patients and advocates.

The state Department of Health says the backlog was caused by a surge in demand from new applicants, reported The Santa Fe New Mexican. Although state law gives the department 30 days to approve or deny an application, spokesman Kenny Vigil said by email that the current wait is about 40 to 50 days.

Vigil didn’t respond to an interview request from the newspaper, but he said in a written statement that the department is working hard to get caught up. The agency purchased two new printers, hired two new employees and two temporary employees and is considering more hires. Employees also have had to work six days a week.

Vigil said the goal is to get caught up this summer.

Meanwhile, patients don’t want to purchase marijuana on the black market, said Empowering Medical Patients and Treatments CEO Nicole Morales.

“It’s backing patients up against a wall and hard spot,” she said. “They don’t want to go to the black market. They don’t want to be criminals. They don’t want to purchase stuff that was sent across the border in a tire. They want medical-grade, tested cannabis.”

Jaylene Kost, office manager for Santa Fe-based medical cannabis dispensary New Mexicann Natural Medicine said when she submitted her renewal application May 7 she was told it would take at least 60 days.

The dispensary cannot sell cannabis to patients with expired cards, she said, which means they can either go without or purchase pot illegally.

“Most people are understanding,” said Kost. “But a lot of these people are cancer patients who are going through a 90-day (treatment) protocol,” which can get interrupted by a lag in card renewals.

The Drug Policy Alliance released a press release on the issue earlier this month.

“We are very concerned about the patients who are put at risk for criminal penalties, and may be forced into the illicit market to maintain their supply of medicine,” policy coordinator Jessica Gelay wrote in a statement. “While we appreciate that there is a plan in place to deal with the problem in time, we believe that more could be done to address this serious situation, affecting thousands of patients, immediately.”

Vigil said enrollment in the state’s medical marijuana program has ballooned from about 14,000 patients to about 25,000 in the past year.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican